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Sociology: People


Carrie Purcell

Carrie Purcell
Carrie Purcell
Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
Research Interests
Therapeutic and Holistic Massage, Touch, Body Work, Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM), Narrative Inquiry, FSD, Phenomenological sociology


Professor Liz Stanley, Dr Aditya Bharadwaj

Thesis overview

My thesis comprises an exploration of the practice of Holistic Massage, working across the sociological areas of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM), body work, emotional labour, sociological phenomenology and narrative inquiry. Holistic Massage is one of a plethora of practices encompassed by the field of CAM. While there has been steadily increasing sociological interest in CAM in recent years, much research has treated this diverse group as relatively homogeneous. This thesis looks at one practice in depth, in order to address issues specific to Holistic Massage – including what ‘holism’ adds up in to in practice, and the devaluation of knowledge based on touch(ing) – as well as those concerning CAM more broadly. Hence, whilst drawing on existing research on CAM, this research also addresses a lacuna within it.

I employ the conceptual tool of ‘touching work’, which brings together the concepts of ‘emotional labour’ and ‘body work’ in a way that draws out relevant aspects of each around the fulcrum of touch, thus accounting for the latter in both its sensory and emotional meanings. In so doing, my thesis also contributes to the recently burgeoning literature on the senses in sociology, and to an embodied sociology more generally. I also draw on sociological phenomenology, in particular the notion of the intersubjective ‘stock of knowledge’, and the understanding of talk as constitutive of the everyday social world. The overall methodological approach taken brings together phenomenological theory with narrative inquiry, and specifically with the analysis of the form and content of talk. The analysis presented is based around data from loosely-structured interviews with ten women who do Holistic Massage.

Piecing together the constitution by practitioners of a stock of professional Holistic Massage knowledge makes a significant contribution to the sociology of CAM. Also, by uniting phenomenological sociology and narrative inquiry, it provides a novel perspective on a form of work which is part of a small but significant contemporary occupational field in the UK. In particular, it draws out the multiple aspects of touch which can in fact be known and articulated through talk and challenges ideas about the supposedly ineffable character of touch. In this regard, it points to similarities between how practitioners talk about this and the Foucauldian challenge to the ‘repressive hypothesis’, which sees people as in fact talking readily and in detail about matters where they claim silence prevails.

Research interests:

  • Holistic massage
  • Embodiment
  • Narrative inquiry
  • Touch and the senses
  • Phenomenological sociology
  • Body work
  • Complementary and alternative medicines (CAM)
  • Emotional labour
  • Illness, health and wellbeing
  • Work history
  • New Burlesque

Educational background: 

PhD in Sociology, University of Edinburgh (2011)

MSc by Research in Sociology, University of Edinburgh (2007)
Dissertation: ‘Doing Women’s (Body)Work? A qualitative study of men who do professional massage’

MA SocSci in Sociology (1st Class Honours), University of Glasgow (2002)


Co-convener for Analysing Qualitative Data (Postgraduate)

Senior tutor for Sociology 2 and Scotland: Society and Politics

Workshop facilitator/tutor for Data Collection (PG)

Research Supervisor for Designing and Doing Social Research (Honours)

Tutor for Social and Political Enquiry, and Sociology 1B (Undergraduate)

Publications and papers: 

(Forthcoming 2012) 'Sensing body work: touch in holistic massage', in C. Wolkowitz, R.L. Cohen, T. Sanders and K. Hardy (eds) Body/Sex/Work: Intimate, Embodied and Sexualised Labour, London: Palgrave Macmillan

(2009) Doing massage: body work through a narrative lens, Edinburgh Working Papers in Sociology 35, University of Edinburgh, available at:

Conference papers:

(Apr 2012) Deploying touch in body work, BSA Annual Conference, University of Leeds

(Sept 2011) Narrating the ineffable in body work: a sociological phenomenology, BSA Ageing, Body and Society Conference, British Library, London

(Sept 2010) Talking touch: the case of Holistic Massage, BSA Medical Sociology Annual Conference, University of Durham

(Apr 2010) What practitioners talk about when they talk about massage, New Directions in Sociological Research, University of Edinburgh

(Apr 2010) PhD Challenges, BSA Postgraduate Day Conference, Glasgow Caledonian University

(Jan 2009) The contradiction of holism: regulating touch in massage work, ESRC seminar series: Body work: Critical Themes, Future Agendas V - Regulation and Resistance, University of Warwick

(May 2008) Massage as a form of 'body work', New Directions in Sociological Research, University of Edinburgh

(March 2008) Stories from men who do massage: thinking about narrative analysis, ESRC seminar series: Narrative Studies in Interdisciplinary Perspective: Theories, Methodologies and Revisions, University of Edinburgh

(June 2007) Doing 'women's (body)work'? Men who do professional massage, New Directions in Sociological Research, University of Edinburgh

Book reviews:

(2010) Working Bodies by Linda McDowell, Sociological Review 58(4) 

(2009) 'Touch Talk', joint review of The Senses of Touch by Stephen Paterson and The Politics of Touch by Erin Manning, Senses and Society 4(3)

(2009) The Sociology of Healthcare by Sarah Earle and Gayle Letherby (eds), Medical Sociology Online 4(1)

(2008) Embodying Sociology: Retrospect, Progress and Prospects by Chris Shilling (ed), Medical Sociology Online 3(2)

(2008) Maid to Order in Hong Kong: Stories of Migrant Workers by Nicole Constable, Network (Spring/Summer 2008)

(2007) Gendering the Knowledge Economy: Comparative Perspectives by Sylvia Walby et al. (eds), Sociological Research Online 12(3)  

Other professional activities and memberships: 

Invited participant in ESRC seminar series: Body Work: Critical Themes, Future Agendas, University of Warwick (2008-09) ; facilitator and chair at  BSA postgraduate event: Whose knowledge is it anyway? University of Edinburgh (March 2010. 

Memberships: British Sociological Association; Sociologists Without Borders; Alternative and Complementary Health Research Network; International Society for Complementary Medicine Research.